Left Luggage

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Archive for the ‘Labour Party’ Category

Leftovers #10

Posted by Left Luggage on June 12, 2009

It has been a busy week in the Left blogosphere with the Euro elections, the meltdown of Labour and the BNP’s victory. Plenty of questions have been thrown up, but most central is the need for the Left to get its house in order and begin rebuilding. This was addressed in a call by the Socialist Workers Party for a new left-wing political initiative to combat the BNP and to resist cuts to services and jobs in the next few years as the Government begins to introduce measures to cut national debt. Although there are some problems with this letter, it’s worth highlighting three important points that the SWP recognises:

Those who campaigned against the BNP in the elections know that when they said to people, “Don’t vote Nazi” they were often then asked who people should vote for. […]

The European election results demonstrate that the left of Labour vote was small, fragmented and dispersed. […]

The SWP is all too aware of the differences and difficulties involved in constructing such an alternative. We do not believe we have all the answers or a perfect prescription for a left wing alternative.

Many people will immediately cite the experience of both the Socialist Alliance and Respect – the Unity Coalition as evidence of the immpossibility of such a union being formed. Clearly the severe problems these organisations encountered were not unconnected to the groups involved and their modes of operation. Louis Proyect makes the point well in a post on Socialist Unity, arguing that another “united front” style formation with different “tendencies” coexisting, or contending, would be disastrous. Instead he suggests the Left should leave aside questions of socialist dogma, become more democratic, and begin to address the immediate problems facing the working class:

-Keep reading>

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Posted in Anti-fascism, Labour Party, Leftovers, New workers' party, Strategy | 5 Comments »

Poll suggests Labour will stagger on

Posted by Left Luggage on May 22, 2009

ICM pollAre these not the epoch-changing times for British politics that some have predicted?

A story on The Guardian website today is headlined “Quarter of voters to reject mainstream parties at EU elecions”, based on an ICM poll that puts the combined total (from those who expressed a preference) for Labour, Tories and Lib Dems at 72%. But reading beyond the headline to the data itself, what seems really extraordinary is that the poll indicates an increase in support for all three main parties compared with the 2004 European elections. The Tories are up +3% to 30%, Lib Dems have increased in support +3% to 18%, and even Labour has gained +1% to take the party to 24%. Given the depth of the public anger over the recent MPs expenses revelations this is most unexpected. While the Guardian report attempts to exaggerate the poll’s findings somewhat, it seems that the predicted meltdown of support for Labour is not quite upon us. This polls seem to indicate the possibility of its staggering on in the same grim fashion, rather than anything more terminal.

It also shows support for the British National Party is lower than many had expected, at only 1% according to the ICM figure, although this is likely to be an underestimate due to the reluctance of those polled to own up to supporting the BNP. At present this is down from the 5% it achieved in 2004. From the (admittedly small sample of) data gathered by ICM in another recent poll (pdf), support for the far right seems to be highest among men, those aged 18 to 24, and voters in social class C2 (skilled manual workers), showing again that the far-right’s support is strongest among working class people. They also seem to be stronger in the Midlands than the North or South. Clearly it is to be welcomed if the BNP do suffer a decline in support, but it should not distract from the Left’s task: building of working class political organisation to fill the vacuum the far-right is attempting to exploit. A poor BNP showing cannot be a charter for the “anyone but the BNP” strategies of mainstream anti-fascism to persist.

Other notable figures from the EU election poll are the increase in support for the Green Party, which is up +3% on its 2004 result at 9%, and the decline in stated support for UKIP, down -6% at 10%.

It’s worth being cautious about all these figures, not only because they produce counterintuitive results. The full data sets are not yet available on ICM’s website, but it seems certain that the sample will have included a large percentage of “don’t knows” that could radically alter this picture, or put a cross by the BNP on polling day.

One thing is certain, however: yet again the Left has let an opportunity slip. In the midst of both the largest economic and political crises in generations, there is no credible challenge from the Left whatsoever. The electoral platform No2EU doesn’t register even 1% in the poll, which should be unsurprising given how late in the day they launched their campaign. In any case, once again the Left is out of contention.

Posted in Anti-fascism, Elections, European Union, Labour Party, News | 2 Comments »

Leftovers #7

Posted by Left Luggage on May 20, 2009

There’s been a lot of discussion recently of the role of unions in any potential rebuilding of a leftwing political culture in the UK. The RMT’s entry into the political arena through the No2EU platform for the European elections has stimulated some heated debate, and a number of trade unionists are involved in the promotion of the People’s Charter campaign. The latter initiative was the subject of a piece by former Morning Star editor John Haylett on Socialist Unity last week. Haylett was at pains to stress that the Charter is designed to gain the support of the trade union movement:

The entire charter can be read on the website http://www.thepeoplescharter.com and it reads a little like the roll call of motions carried at any trade union conference, which is certainly no coincidence.

Those who drew up the charter wanted to base the call for action not on a collection of left policies worked out among a small group of like-minded comrades, which could then be presented to the labour movement like biblical tablets of stone as the one true path to salvation, but on decisions that have already been taken by trade unionists themselves.

As with the many other Charter campaigns in the last two decades, the demands are broad, social-democratic and calculated to appeal to disillusioned former Labour voters. Many of the Left will have doubts about the campaign’s strategy, revealed in the concluding passage of Haylett’s article:

There is no political difference between Brown and Milburn, Clarke, Blunkett or the rest of yesterday’s windbags.

There is, however, a political choice to be made between Brown’s steady-as-she-sinks approach, which guarantees a trouncing in next month’s Euro election and next year’s general election, and a unifying, campaigning document that could enthuse the mass of alienated previous Labour voters by attracting a million signatures and serving notice on the government that an alternative way exists and must be tried.

The task is to build a tidal wave of public opinion that will either force Labour to change direction and save its electoral bacon or lay the basis for a united labour movement fightback to frustrate the Tories and work to deliver a government that would put principles and people before private profit.

The aim – at least for Haylett – appears to be to use the Charter to lobby the Labour leadership in the hope that this will push the Party leftwards and save it from itself. Judging from the article, it appears that the campaign is concentrating at present on getting union leaders to sign the Charter, rather than -Keep reading>

Posted in Anti-fascism, Community, Labour Party, Leftovers, Unions, Workers' struggles | Leave a Comment »

Democrats without democracy

Posted by Left Luggage on April 21, 2009

The decision of Alice Mahon, former MP for Halifax, to leave Labour will have dealt a further blow to the hopes of those socialists operating within the party that it can be “reclaimed” for the Left. Certainly one of Labour’s finer MPs for her 18 years in Parliament, the fact that she resigned from the party she had been with for virtually her whole life was significant enough. But of greater significance was the fact that she abandoned Labour not simply on grounds of policy, nor because of the current e-mail slurs scandal as has been reported, but largely because of its inherently “undemocratic” structures. Writing about her resignation, she made this clear:

A machine was put in place to crush anything remotely connected to Old Labour. Conference was changed beyond recognition, any dissent ruthlessly stamped on by the new spin masters. Delegates were sought out and pressurised into supporting New Labour policies even if they were against what the local party had decided. […] Party members have effectively been banned from any decision making. […] New Labour have done such a good job of demolishing our democratic structure that I realised there was nothing I could say or do to change things from within.

Members of the Labour Representation Committee report that even within this organisation there is a debate underway between those who favour a Labour-focussed approach and those who see the party as a lost cause, though for the moment it is firmly tied to Labour. Susan Press, LRC vice-chair and a councillor in Calder Valley, made clear that while she regrets Alice’s departure, she believes it was the wrong decision strategically, at least for the moment. At the same time, Susan admits there is basically no democracy within Labour. She recently stood as a prospective parliamentary candidate in both Keighley and Calder Valley, losing both elections. She says:

I feel more disillusioned than ever before. As Alice said yesterday, the old ways of changing policy just aren’t there any more. And, after what has happened to me as a candidate in Keighley and Calder Valley, I honestly think left-wingers do not stand a chance of beating the machine. The selection process would have to change radically to maje it a fair contest with a level playing field. […]

The truth is that at the moment democracy is not something we have, either as Party members nor as PPC candidates.It’s all decided in rooms which may not have smoke any more but which still serve to block anyone who might not toe the line.

I’ve come to the conclusion that nothing will change until after the General Election. If it doesn’t, then even lifetime Labour members like me may well vote with our feet. I am truly sorry Alice Mahon has left Labour, but I understand why she did.

Yet given what both Alice and Susan say about the party’s democracy, and what is apparent from recent selection battles in Greater London and in West Yorkshire, there is clearly scant hope of “reclaiming” Labour (whatever this would mean politically) if only because the party is structurally incapable of being captured through democratic means.

Posted in Labour Party, News, Strategy | Leave a Comment »

What comes after Labour’s defeat?

Posted by Left Luggage on April 19, 2009

There’s an interesting little debate on David Osler’s blog about the probable eclipse of Labour in next year’s general election. He compares the current state of play, with Labour on just 26% in the polls, unfavourably to the 1931 defeat, which is viewed as the party’s worst ever result.

One comment on the blog expresses “supremely indifferen[ce]” to such an outcome, another says “the main problem for the Left in Britain is the Labour Party”, while a third says “The death of a bourgeois party is to be celebrated.” But David’s point is a little bit more nuanced than simply regretting the demise of an illusory workers’ party. He points out that both socialists in Labour hoping to “recapture” the party and sections of the Left hoping a period of Tory rule will strengthen their ranks are likely to be severely disappointed. Noting that working class self-organisation is at a historically low level, he suggests that while we may pass no tears for Labour’s demise (or at least a lengthy period in the doldrums) the possibility of the Left taking centre stage is extremely limited, noting pointedly: “[the] British far left remains organically incapable of serious politics”:

The difference between now and then is that in many constituencies, Labour exists largely on paper, and wider working class organisation in trade unions and tenants’ associations is at its weakest since the second world war.

I suspect that many on the left don’t grasp just how calamitous the coming decade could prove. I’ve spoken to revolutionary defeatists within Labour who believe that a spell in opposition will strengthen the small socialist layer that remains. Can they really be oblivious to the prospect of defeat on a magnitude from which Labour will never recover?

Doubtless others will maintain that the smack of firm Tory government will dispel illusions in reformism, providing the most propitious circumstances for the formation of a new workers’ party, or whatever other nonsense they picked up at last weekend’s cadre school.

Unfortunately, that is not the most likely trajectory, if only because [the] British far left remains organically incapable of serious politics. Working class depoliticisation on the one hand and growing support for the British National Party can be taken as given.

The point about the deterministic view of Tory rule is particularly apt, since come economic boom or bust, Tory rule or Labour, the Left has remained on the margins. Clearly, as Left Luggage has argued, we have to take the initiative, deal with the situation as we find it and build from this point, rather than forever waiting for political circumstances to change in our favour.

Posted in Labour Party, Socialism, Unions | 1 Comment »